Linking Hearts and Souls around the World
The United Nations declared October 11, 2012 as the first International Day of the Girl Child. This special day is being celebrated at Carl Ben Eielson, a middle school in Fargo, North Dakota, and at the ASAH School for Orphaned Girls in Duk Payuel, Jonglei State, South Sudan. Why a Day of the Girl? Gender inequalities continue to exist even in developed countries. In underdeveloped countries girls are at risk through practices of denial of education, child marriage, sex slavery, and have little control over their destinies or those of their children.
Excitement permeated the mood at the ASAH school today, and our students made signs to state their feelings about this special day. Two students, Rebecca Achol and Mary Aleul, gave speeches to express their thoughts about the idea that a day has been set aside to recognize the importance of equality for girls and to explain to the listeners what it means to them to imagine a future where education for girls is the norm, not an exception.
Imagine the impact on these girls when a local authority officer joined the staff and other important members of the community to speak out about the rights of girls to be educated, encouraging families to allow their daughters to remain in school after puberty. The speakers noted the absence of women from political and leadership affairs and told our students that women like them must become educated so that they can play a role in the development of South Sudan.
Protect. Educate. Empower.
ASAH students are protected from forced marriage at puberty, educated in school subjects and practical life skills, empowered to become leaders and to give back to their communities. In our first year of operation, the ASAH girls are already demonstrating their leadership and caring. In July, our older girls walked miles across flooded paths carrying bags of underwear and washable sanitary bags on their heads to deliver to girls in schools in neighboring villages. These supplies have been donated to ASAH with the purpose of keeping all girls in school at puberty, thus reducing the incidence of early marriage.
The result – girls have reenrolled in school thanks to these supplies, or are enabled to stay in school instead of dropping out. The arrival of a menstrual cycle is not a signal that a girl is no longer a child. It is one step toward her development into a young woman. Girls who are not in school due to this visible sign of puberty are an extra mouth to feed and are soon married off for the cattle dowry.
The ASAH program has had an impact on other girls in the local community whose parents don’t understand the value of sending their girls to school. These young girls have pleaded with their parents – “The ASAH girls are orphans, and they go to school. Why can’t I go to school?” This pressure has resulted in an increase in the enrollment of girls of all ages in the local school.
The ASAH students are already looking forward to next year’s celebration and to welcoming more girls into our program in 2013. ASAH girls and others like them who are fortunate enough to be educated will change the world they live in.